Commonly Confused Words: All together vs. Altogether

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What does each word mean?

All together means ‘all at the same time’ or ‘all in the same place’.

Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word.

Here is all together used in some example sentences:

  • Because they shared a car, they all arrived at the function together.
  • It was lovely to have the family all together again.
  • We’ll perform the final number all together.

Altogether is an adverb that means ‘completely’ or ‘in total’. The word is also used to mean ‘on the whole’.

Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word.

Here is altogether used in some example sentences:

  • After his injury, he stopped playing tennis altogether.
  • The training lasts five years altogether.
  • Altogether it was an excellent event.

Where does each word come from?

All comes from the Old English ‘eall’ which means ‘all, every, entire’ (from the Proto Germanic ‘alnaz’) and together comes from the Old English ‘togædere’ which means ‘so as to be present in one place, in a group, in an accumulated mass’ (from the Proto Germanic ‘gaduri’ meaning ‘in a body’ from the PIE ‘ghedh’ meaning ‘to unite, join, fit’).

Altogether comes from ‘altogedere’ which is a stronger form of the word ‘all’ that dates back to the early thirteenth century. The word has been used to mean ‘a whole’ since the 1660s.

Are there any tricks to help remember the difference between these words?

  • Think of altogether as one complete word (rather than two words like all together) to remind you it means ‘completely’.
  • Remember you need to use the words ‘all’ and ‘together’ both ‘at the same’ time to spell all together.
  • Come up with a sentence that will help you work out what the meaning of each spelling. For example: ‘The class practises spelling all together and altogether it’s taken them just a few weeks to improve.’

What words do you constantly mix up? Let us know and we’ll cover them in our Commonly Confused Words series.

Sources: The Online Etymology Dictionary.


29 Nov 2016
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Teacher, Australia